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Irish Census Substitutes

Updated: Mar 22, 2021


 The issues with the Irish censuses are frustrating to say the least!  Is there any place you might find your ancestors in 19th century records? Last week I discussed Dog Licenses which can place your ancestor in a particular place and time. Petty Session records can do the same. The problem is that neither of these provide much in the way of genealogical information. Like most things in Ireland, finding additional records will depend on time and place (and luck).  Just like the US 1890 census, there are fragments of the 1821-1851 censuses that survived the Fire. The destruction of the 1861-1891 censuses was done by the government prior to the Fire and it was complete...nothing survives.

   The surviving fragments have been indexed and are online at the National Archives.  If you select the 1821 census, then view the drop down list of counties, you’ll see only those counties listed that have some surviving records.  Before you get too excited, the entire county didn’t survive, and in some cases a complete parish didn't survive; it may be only one household.  

  For example, at the National Archives, Fermanagh lists the Parishes of Derryvullan and Aghalurcher (part only) for 1821. There appears to be fairly good survival for these localities. On the other hand, in Mayo the only surviving parish is Shruel (Shrule) and there was only one house (#6) in the townland of Ballycurrin. If you’re lucky enough, and your ancestor was in one of the places at that time, you may find a record for them.  Using John Grenham’s website, in conjunction with his book, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, will give you an excellent listing of what might be available. On his website, IrishAncestors, go to the sitemap, select the county, then the parish and in the upper right will be a list of sources.  I struck out on census fragments…none in the areas of my ancestors.

   You might notice another listing at the National Archives…Census Search Forms 1841-1851. (These records are also available at FindMyPast and Ancestry.)  Since those censuses were destroyed, what is this?  When the Old Age Pension Act was introduced in Ireland in 1908, eligibility was set at 70 years old and applicants had to prove their age.  To be eligible, a person would have been born before civil registration began in 1864.  How could they prove their age?  One way was by being identified in either the 1841 or 1851 census which weren't destroyed until 1922.  The applicant would complete a form with their name, residence at the time of the census, their approximate age, and parents’ names. The request was sent to the Public Records Office for research.  I came across the form at the top of the page for my great grandmother’s brother Henry MackayMackey.  I didn’t know what had happened to him and he popped up in a search. I know it’s the correct person based of the location and names of his parents. Notice on the line “Return searched by” is NF or not found.  Of course he wasn’t found…the search was in the 1851 census and he wasn’t born until 1867!  But I found out that in 1916 he lived in Belfast, was married to Letitia, and with that information was able to find his marriage record, and both Henry and Letitia's death records. I collected all of the records and filed them. When I looked at them again recently and put them in a Timeline, I realized that Henry died in a hospital in Dublin on 18 October 1916 when his wife, Letitia applied for a pension for him. The form was received on 17 October 1916. Interesting what you might find by using a Timeline.


   If the information was found, the entire family was written down (the information was sometimes written on the back of the form, but only the front was imaged...the originals are at the National Archives). On the example below for James Daly, the information was written on the front of the image.  This family had been indexed as “Dawley” but James appears as 1 year old. You also learn that his father was also James and his mother was Kate (maiden name Fitzpatrick), a widow. James, who died before 1851 was a boot-maker. James (1) had siblings Daniel (8) and Denis (5) (who died in 1850) and a nephew, also Daniel (20) was in the household and was a shoemaker. Quite a bit of information for a record that no longer exists.

   If the individual was not found, at least you have the names of the parents and the location.  The records for the six counties of Northern Ireland are on microfilm at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, however, they can also be found at Ancestry, 1841/1851 Census Abstracts (Northern Ireland).  For the six counties the images were taken from a book by Josephine Masterson, and published by Genealogical Publishing Co. in 1999.   

      Church of Ireland Parish Record Search Forms were another way to prove age and these are available at FindMyPast and Ancestry.  Since almost two-thirds of the Church of Ireland Registers were destroyed in the 1922 Fire, they can also be an excellent source.  Here we have the baptism of Glasgow Johnston in 1845 in Rossinver Parish in Leitrim, listing his parents as Arthur and Barbara.   I did have Arthur’s name from Glasgow’s marriage record, but Barbara was a new addition.  The Rossinver Parish Registers were destroyed in the Fire, and the oldest surviving records date to 1876.  I searched by just Rossinver parish…no individual for a list of all of the records that survived for the parish (total of 77).   The only records were baptisms. The title of the database at Ancestry is "Ireland, Church of Ireland Search Forms for Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1731-1870" which has 13,624 records. I searched just on the year 1731 to see what was there and it was only a note stating that the records didn't start until the 1800s. Since the purpose of this database was to determine a birth year for the Pension after 1908, it's unlikely that there would be someone living in 1908 that was born in the early 1700s! Also, I only found only baptismal records, not marriage or burials. The database is also at Findmypast with no dates. It has 20,146 records. If you have access, check both.

   So it is a matter of luck.  These records can be a goldmine if your ancestors were in the right place at the right time.  Check them out to see what you can find.

   Happy Hunting and Stay Safe!

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